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Firewalls: What They Do and Why Every Organization Needs Them

By: Brad Jepsen, Master IT Engineer

What protects you from hackers, viruses, malicious or unsavory content? Have you ever wondered what it takes for the doctor’s office to keep your online medical information protected, or your favorite online retailer to keep your credit card information from being stolen?

The first line of defense is a firewall.

Firewalls provide security for a network, monitoring traffic coming in and out of an organization, determining the type of traffic, and whether or not it’s allowed to pass through. I liken firewalls to a lock on the door of your home. It may not prevent a break-in, but it will deter someone driving by testing door knobs. In short, a firewall’s purpose is your first defense to keep those “bad guys” (i.e. hackers and viruses) on the internet out of your network.

How it works

Firewalls work similarly to a security checkpoint for your network. Imagine you are entering an airport to board a flight. All of the potential passengers, such as yourself, represent different IP addresses: from websites to emails to applications. Before you get to your flight gate and board the airplane (our hypothetical network), you must go through security, where they will check a variety of information before determining whether or not you’re allowed to pass through. A firewall will analyze the data of incoming traffic and keep out any that carries information that has been pre-determined to be worthy of blocking, or unsecure. This includes certain words or phrases, known malicious websites or IP addresses, viruses, and even applications (i.e. Pandora or Spotify). Many employers do not allow social websites, like Facebook, to be accessed on their network and can have them blocked by the firewall. Your firewall vendor can also group blocked content by category, with keywords like “gambling” or “lottery”.

The level of control depends on what type of firewall you choose. Networks Plus can help you determine what the best fit is for your needs.

Perhaps as important as choosing the right set-up is managing it. Setting parameters can be tricky, and obviously not fool-proof. Say you block “gambling”, but eventually that leads to blocked communication on a new project or client. Parameters would need to be adjusted. Ideally, a firewall would be monitored daily, but at minimum monthly or quarterly check-ins suffice for most users. These check-ins will show if there’s questionable inbound and/or outbound traffic, and where more attention may be necessary. This also helps ensure, in most cases, that a problem doesn’t go on for too long without detection.

It can seem daunting for some organizations to add this process to their workload, so Networks Plus offers a managed firewall solution to help take care of monitoring the firewall and making adjustments as needed. Using either a software firewall program or firewall hardware – or both – you can really monitor network traffic in a variety of ways.

Why it’s important

A firewall is your first basic step of security in monitoring what’s allowed in or out of the IT side of your organization. Without a firewall it would be pretty easy for someone to steal data, for example. It also helps mitigate viruses, which could easily cause a pain for the organization, not to mention a loss of productivity.

Ensuring reliability

How do you know if your current set-up is reliable? Knowing you have a firewall is a good first step. Knowing everything it’s doing can be difficult if you’re not monitoring it day-to-day. It’s a good idea to call a professional, like Networks Plus, to look at your current firewall and give you the details on what it is and what it’s capable of, then they can make recommendations from there.

For those in need of setting up a firewall from scratch, have a company that knows what they’re doing come in and set it up to ensure optimal security. Networks Plus partners with network security vendor WatchGuard to offer award-winning, easy to deploy security solutions.

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